October is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “31 days of horror.” Don’t bother looking it up; it’s true. Most people take that to mean highlighting one horror movie a day, but here at FSR, we’ve taken that up a spooky notch or nine by celebrating each day with a top ten list. This article about the best Spanish-language horror films is part of our ongoing series 31 Days of Horror Lists.
Spanish is the most popular romance language in the world, spoken by some half a billion people worldwide. Things said in Spanish just sound nicer. And it translates wonderfully to the world of Spanish-language horror. Trashy blood-soaked slashers, chilling ghost stories, and terrifying infection flicks are all arthouse horror when they’re made in Spanish. That’s just one of the many perks of an elegant language that flows off the tongue.
Horror films in the Spanish language have been around since the earliest days of the genre. Modern audiences are likely to link Guillermo del Toro to Spanish-speaking horror — and with good reason as you’ll soon read — but the genre stretches much further. Today we celebrate that rich tradition with ten of our favorite películas de miedo.
Unfortunately, when you’re narrowing a broad grouping like “Spanish language horror” down to just ten films you’re going to have to leave off some big names. That means no Jess Franco, Amando de Ossorio, or Paul Naschy (the Spanish Lon Chaney). And only three countries made the cut (US, Mexico, Spain). But Brad Gullickson, Anna Swanson, Jacob Trussell, Rob Hunter, Mary Beth McAndrews, Meg Shields, and myself put our collective brains together and churned out this top ten. Think of it as an introductory guide. Use it to get your feet wet before you dive in.
10. Drácula (1931)
The Spanish-language Dracula is one of the great cinematic oddities. It’s right up there with Gus Van Sant’s doppelgänger Psycho, minus the bravado and show-off spirit. While Tod Browning and his crew made their film in the afternoon, once they left, George Melford and his crew became the true children of the night. The director would watch Browning’s dailies and then offer his spin on those images with his film. A twinning effect was desired, but in reaching for a foreign market clone, they created something that buzzed with its own unique electricity.
Experiencing Milford’s Dracula is like staring into a funhouse mirror, but sometimes, the odd reflection appears to be the more preferred rendition. Blasphemy? Maybe! But don’t deny yourself Carlos Villarías’ Conde Drácula; his casual sensuality might actually surpass Bela Lugosi‘s hypnotic sensuality. At the very least, it provides us another perspective to experience and examine Bram Stoker‘s classic vampire narrative. (Brad Gullickson)
9. Kidnapped (2010)
If you’re looking for an absolutely exhausting cinematic experience, then put Kidnapped at the top of your watchlist. Miguel Ángel Vivas’s 2010 film is unrelenting and brutal as he tells the story of a family attacked by a trio of masked robbers. The family of three has just moved into a wealthy Madrid neighborhood and on their first night in their new home, three men break in and hold them all hostage. Each member of the family is brutalized and tortured as the masked strangers try to extract every dollar they can.
Kidnapped is also filmed in twelve long takes, meaning that you’re meant to really watch and experience the violence. There is no cutting away from pain. Instead, the camera lingers and revels in the chaos, making you a part of the horrific scene unfolding on screen. Nihilism is the name of the game in Kidnapped, so don’t expect coming out of this one particularly thrilled with the human race. But even within this cruelty lies an incredibly made home invasion film that will stick in the back of your brain for days. (Mary Beth McAndrews)
8. [REC]² (2009)
Even under the best circumstances making a good sequel to a successful film is no easy task. The price of success is expectations, and living up to expectations is often a fruitless endeavor. That’s doubly true when making a follow-up to a found-footage horror film in which the audience already knows the payoff. And that’s precisely why Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza‘s [REC]² is a monumental achievement. This sequel picks up immediately after the events of the first film, with Dr. Owen (Jonathan Mellor) and a group of armed soldiers entering the quarantined apartment to get a handle on the “situation,” by order of the Ministry of Health. As it turns out, Dr. Owen is a priest working on behalf of the Vatican to get a blood sample from the possessed girl believed to be patient zero. While it never quite hits on all cylinders like its predecessor, it’s still a highly effective film bound to make your skin crawl. (Chris Coffel)
7. The Day of the Beast (1995)
As holiday horror films go, you can’t get more wild and chaotic than The Day of the Beast. In order to stop the birth of the Antichrist at midnight on Christmas Eve, a Basque priest opts to commit as many sins as possible to sell his soul to the devil, just so he can surreptitiously save the world from total destruction.
Alex de la Iglesia is one of Spain’s greatest masters of horror, mashing up various genres, like horror and comedy, with his own obvious inspirations, like Quentin Tarantino. But de la Iglesia’s films aren’t a pastiche patchwork of other’s ideas, but a unique style unto itself. His early horror films blend satire, sight-gags, and gory violence not just to make a comment on the hypocrisies of religion, but to weave a barnburner of a story that feels just as distinctive and singular as it did when it was first released in 1995. If you haven’t seen The Day of the Beast, it deserves a prime slot in your next yuletide horror marathon. (Jacob Trussell)
6. Cronos (1993)
Before becoming a household name, director Guillermo del Toro was wowing critics with his stylish and unique vampire tale, Cronos. The film follows Jesús Gris (Federico Luppi), an antique dealer that stumbles upon a 450-year-old mechanical device that injects him with a needle, improving his health while making him thirst for blood. As Jesús attempts to control his new craving, a dying wealthy man (Claudio Brook) sends his goonish nephew (Ron Perlman) to track down Jesús and steal the device. Cronos is a refreshing twist on vampire lore, maintaining the gothic elements that make the subgenre successful while adding a modern flair. While it does not contain the fantastical creature work that has defined the director’s later work, its elegant and heartbreaking story is trademark del Toro. (Chris Coffel)
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